Wyoming Workers’ Comp. Bill Gets Committee Approval

A Wyoming Senate committee approved a bill that would expand benefits for people injured on the job, including cost-of-living adjustments for workers on permanent disability.

House Bill 54 would raise benefits for families of workers killed on the job, allow for some out-of-state medical care and bridge benefits for workers who go from temporary to permanent disability benefits.

“I’d ask you to stand up and support the workers of Wyoming,” said Kim Floyd, executive secretary of Wyoming’s AFL-CIO, urging the committee to send the bill to the full Senate.

One of the more contentious issues of the bill is the proposed addition of annual cost-of-living adjustments of no more than 3 percent for people who are on permanent total disability.

There are currently 184 injured workers in Wyoming who are considered permanently and totally disabled. Gary Child, director of the Wyoming Department of Employment, said the cost-of-living adjustments are expected to cost approximately $3.5 million per year.

When a worker begins receiving permanent total disability benefits, the Workers’ Compensation and Safety Division places the total projected amount of money the worker will receive over the lifetime of his claim in a reserve fund.

Some voiced concern about how much more it would cost to make the cost-of-living adjustments for people on permanent total disability.

Committee Chairman Sen. Charles Scott, R-Casper, proposed a failed amendment that would have adjusted for cost-of-living only on extended benefits. Extended benefits are paid out to people who have been on permanent total disability for 61/2 years. Scott still voted to send the bill to the full Senate.

Scott said incorporating cost-of-living could provide a “perverse incentive” for people to continue receiving workers’ compensation benefits, even if they could work.

But Mark Aronowitz, director of Lawyers and Advocates for Wyoming, said it was unfair not to adjust for inflation. “It would be difficult to live in 2049 on what you made in 2009,” he said.

The bill is the product of two successive interim committees. Floyd called the bill an “incredible compromise.” He said Wyoming workers cut back on benefits in 1992 when the fund was in financial trouble, but said the fund is healthy enough to be more generous toward injured workers.

The state workers’ compensation fund is valued at about $1 billion, according to the state Treasurer’s Office.